A bit about tribes...the Beja tribes
Two famous coffee-drinking tribes of the east, the Haddendawa and Beni Amir are part of the large Beja family of tribes, and are widespread in Eastern Sudan and Eritrea (where they are known as Hedareb), along with the lesser known Halanga tribe. Now, I know several Hadendawa males (my room-mate is one) and know that their traditional dress is a white jellabiyya with a blue waistcoat and a worryingly long sword. Females are kept in secrecy, and it is a big disgrace to mention the name of a Haddendawa woman. The traditional houses of the Haddendawa are low-lying tent-type structures made out of wood and straw and easily transportable, although many have founf more comort in city houses. Their language is totally diffeent from Arabic, and they will appreciate it if you can manage a few words..."dobaywa" means "hello/welcome", while "smok up" means "what is your name?". To really impress, you could try using a couple of the greetings below:
Another surprise for visitors is the fairly large Indian community in Kassala. The most profitable businesses in the souq are Indian-owned, and they have their own school in the very centre of Kassala, right in the bus station. The Indians are most visible along "Police Street" where they have an unofficial "quarter", and on Fridays it isn't uncommon to spot bright saris trailing in the wind as motorbikes speed past you on the Sawagi Janubiyya road. However, before you start salivating over chicken tandoori, poppadoms and lassi, the only way to eat Indian food is to somehow get yourself invited to a family house. The Sudanese all have set ideas about Indians...that they are vegetarians and worship cows...and wouldn't dream of eating anything remotely Indian, so if it is balti your after, you'd better head to Khartoum.
A bit about tribes...Felati/Fulani
Another West African tribe to find its way to Kassala, the Fulani, or Felati as they call themselves here, originally came from Mali in much the same way as the Hausa...after visiting Mecca, they decided to settle in Kassala on the way back. The Hausa and Felati are often confused by Kassalawis, but although they share some similarities (they tend to live in the same areas of town, they prefer simple lives and many work in agriculture), don't make the mistake of saying "ah, you're like the Hausa!" It is difficult for the untrained to distinguish between Felati and other tribes, as they have adapted well to Kassala's ways and generally go unnoticed.
A bit about tribes...Hausa
You might be reading this and thinking, "Hausa? But they're West African...". Well, true, they are originally from West Africa, from around Nigeria to be exact, but there is a sizeable Hausa community living in Kassala, especially around Gharb el-Gash. The story goes that a group of Hausa pilgrims made the journey overland to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, but on the journey back they ran out of money, and decided to settle there and then. The Hausa tend to be darker skinned than the "local" tribes, but often you can't distinguish Hausa from Haddendawa or Shergest or whatever. They all have Sudanese passports, but some of my Hausa friends will describe themselves as Nigerian, not Sudanese.
A bit about tribes...the Rashaida
Kassala has many tribes, each with their own customs and language. One of the most obvious on the streets of Kassala are the Rashaida. Originally from the Arabian Peninsula, many hold Saudi passports and don't consider themselves Sudanese. Their language is Arabic, and a very pure version it is too. The men wear coloured jellabiyyas and Arab headscaves, while their women dress in the most colourful costumes you will see here. Red and black ornamented dresses, with very ornate headscarves covering their mouths but allowing their hair to flow freely onto their shoulders. Appaently this has nothing to do with religion, it is just a tradition of the tribe...women cannot show their mouths in public. The Rashaida mainly live in neaby villages, and descend on Kassala in the mornings to trade in the market.